Charcuterie Plate

Happy Friday, Fellow Foodies!

This evening I am having some friends over for wine and conversation. I didn't want to do a heavy dinner, so I decided to whip up a crab au gratin (that recipe will appear at a later date), and a nice Charcuterie platter.

"What is a Charcuterie platter?" You ask...well, to understand exactly what one is, you must first know what charcuterie is in the first place.

"Charcuterie, from chair 'flesh' and cuit 'cooked') is the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage,  terriens, galentimnes,  pates, and confit,  primarily from pork. Charcuterie is part of the garde mangier chef's repertoire. Originally intended as a way to preserve meat before the advent of refrigeration, they are prepared today for their flavors derived from the preservation processes. This ancient art, whose origins date back some 6,000 years, became popular during the Roman Empire when cuisine started to become sophisticated. It really hit its stride in France during the Middle Ages.
At that time, the French experienced a tremendous variety of meatloaves, sausages and cured items that were being prepared and sold in 'prepared-meat shops' also known as 'charcuteries'. These shops were owned and operated by individuals who were referred to as 'charcutiers'. Charcutiers were skilled individuals who not only had to possess the talent to season and cook moist and delicious foods, but also present those foods so they would be extremely attractive to customers who passed by or entered their shop. Charcutiers enjoyed great popularity and their customers were always interested to see the new creations being prepared.
During the late 1400s and into the 1500s, the French government had to maintain a strict separation between fisheries, slaughterhouses, butchers and charcuteries. Food related illnesses and diseases were becoming an epidemic. The government regulations kept the slaughtering of animals and fish, away from meat markets and ultimately kept the processing of raw meat from the charcutiers. Consequently, the charcutiers were at the mercy of the suppliers for product. As supply and demand go, so go the prices. Charcutiers were outraged at the situation they had been placed in by these government regulations. Their ability to slaughter and process their own animals, control their supply and costs and create different food items had been eliminated.
The conflicts between these two work groups and the government's attempt to keep the peace brought a tremendous amount of attention to the work and products of charcutiers. An attempt to quiet the charcutiers resulted in the government allowing them to sell salted herring and a few other fish during Lent, when meat products were forbidden. Eventually, in the 1600s, government regulations eased and charcutiers were allowed to slaughter their own animals for processing.
Charcutiers began to experiment with different kinds of meat and fowl. This obviously resulted in new and different food items for customers to purchase. It also created great competition among the charcutiers, causing each to boost their culinary abilities in order to present the best possible products to their customers.
Over time, the products and processes made popular by the charcutiers of France spread to neighboring regions. Frankfurt, Germany became noted for the 'Frankfurter'. 'Genoa Salami' and 'Bologna' were produced in Genoa and Bologna, Italy respectively.
Travelers to America took the techniques they had learned and applied them to the natural resources they discovered. Pennsylvania became renowned for sausage preparation. Wonderfully cured and smoked hams were developed in Virginia and throughout the land everybody had their own variation of the classic meat loaf.
The original European regional specialties and the newer American creations have stood the test of time. 400-500 years later, they are available in any local or regional supermarket. This tremendous assortment of cooked, cured and stuffed meats, fish and poultry make up the field of Culinary Arts referred to as 'Charcuterie'. "

So it is essentially a platter of cured meats, with a few other items thrown in for variety of flavor and texture. Typically a Charcuterie platter contains cured meats-as mentioned above,-with a few cheeses, something sweet like fruit or preserves, something crunchy like nuts, and something like a pate for saltiness and smoothness (Tonight we are having Hummus in lieu of the traditional pate).

Here is my platter for this evening and there is a side of freshly made bread and sour dough Melba-style toast off the the side.

Clockwise from top left: Anjou Pears, Prosciutto Ham, Cotswold cheese, Slow-Dried Hard Salami, Roquefort Cheese, Dark Chocolate Strawberries, Herbed 100% Goat's Milk Chevre, Pinot Wine Marinated Sopresatta. Center: Smoked Almonds, Hummus with Kalamatas, Fig Jam. 


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